Blog Post

How Networks Work

If you go to, you will find the best searchable database for research on scientific technologies anywhere. This is SparkIP, an online intellectual property network for the scientific community that was co-developed by some of my colleagues, historian of science Tim Lenoir and engineer Rob Clark of Duke and Kristina Johnson (formerly dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke and now Provost at Johns Hopkins). Various computer programmers also worked on creating this amazing tool that allows you to browse through scientific patents in fairly traditional ways but also allows you to visualize the interrelationships among the technologies in ways almost as limitless as the imagination. 40,000 self-organizing and self-naming clusters! It is brilliant. And so HASTAC. Tim's a historian of science who understands the intellectual networks undergirding intellectual property. He has worked with graduate students and undergraduates for years on various technologies to visualize intricate interrelationships between people, institutions, and technologies, and the networks that each generates in interaction with the others. A little DeLeuze helps here, because theoring rhizomes and knowledge flows helps us to understand how interractions generate and catalyze one another, including through various deconstructions. For entrepreneurs, there is a gold mine of information here to be developed--an "ebay for ideas" is how one magazine described it. For scientists, this is a tool to help understand one's own projects and technologies in relationship to the multitudes out there already. A science researcher can do in second what, previously, would be hours slogging through the far less elegant apparatus offered by the patent office. For science studies, SparkIP literally makes visible how networks form and reform; it helps to unravel and reveal connections that weren't visible before. I spent this morning lost in patents for brain scanning technologies. O my. If I were teaching now, I'd be having students extract a cluster of patents around one technology and then write extensively about the connections they saw. Next gen intellectual history. It's here.


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